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Ode to Joy: Alumna Finds Connections Between Music and Mothering
Photo courtesy of Joy Sikorski

Ode to Joy: Alumna Finds Connections Between Music and Mothering

When Joy Sikorski (Class of ’01, M.A., humanities) raised and home-schooled her three children in the Alaskan wilderness, she realized that one of the many stimuli that they responded well to was the sound of her voice. Their emotions and ability to learn were greatly influenced by this. When her voice was uptight and strident, they reacted with tension and an inability to focus. When her voice was gentle and reassuring, they felt safe and relaxed, which enabled them to ask questions, communicate and absorb information easily.

This inspired Sikorski to create SingBabySing, a line of educational products designed to help parents and children relax, meditate and learn. The accomplished musician and composer developed a program with original music, games, and exercises that encourage voice and speech development in infants as young as 3 to 4 months. She named the Puccini Effect. Similar to the Mozart Effect, which is a theory about the ears and brain receiving musical sounds and sending messages to the rest of the body about them, the Puccini Effect has to do with music coming from inside the body and going out, sending messages through the vocal cords and mouth. According to Sikorski, both the Mozart Effect and the Puccini Effect have a profound impact on language development.

Sikorski experienced her own home-schooling, earning her master’s degree through the CSU Dominguez Hills College of Extended Education while in Alaska. Her thesis, titled “Dream Songs - an Isopomorphism between the Tangible and the Ineffable,” examined the historical and contemporary theories surrounding the concept of “music of the spheres,” a philosophical concept that imbues music with supernatural or harmonic powers.

In her research of ancient Celtic, Hebrew and Native American cultures for her thesis, Sikorski discovered the common thread of a power belonging to music that goes beyond normal understanding, and drew a few possible conclusions about music as a healing force.

Dateline had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about this force, its role in early child development, and the lessons she learned about “paying it forward” in the frozen wilds of Alaska.

What made you move to Alaska?
I grew up in Culver City, Calif., so I knew city life firsthand. But when I was a little girl, I wanted to know what life felt like away from the city. My favorite book was Heidi, so I imagined myself living high in the mountains, breathing fresh air, climbing trails, seeing wildflowers in bloom, milking goats, eating homemade cheese and watching the stars through a window at night without city lights hiding them from view. I’ve done all of those things now.

What are some of the things you value most about having lived in the wilderness for a while?
If you can manage to survive several winters in Alaska, heating with wood, dealing with frozen pipes, week-long power outages, volcanic eruptions, sub-zero temperatures for weeks on end, and worst of all, very little light, you find out what you’re made of.

Alaska breeds strong survival skills that are not merely physical, but mental as well. For instance, you’re cooped up for most of the year, so you either face yourself or you go crazy. Living there taught me how to get out of the realm of theoretical philosophy and into the real world of practical knowledge and common sense.

I learned how to be incredibly self-reliant under life-threatening circumstances and found out a beautiful truth about people: If you see someone in trouble you help them, knowing that you might be the one who needs the help next time. In L.A., there’s a slim chance that a stranger would stop on the freeway to help you if you had a flat tire. They’re too afraid of getting shot or mugged. In Alaska, if your car breaks down, you won’t have to wait more than a few minutes before someone stops to help. They know their turn will eventually come around.

What inspired your thesis topic?
A number of unusual experiences in my life, most of them based in music, coupled with accounts from others who had had similar experiences.

What surprised you most in your research?
I learned that the earth vibrates at what is called the Schumann frequency —not associated with the composer —as do other planets and celestial objects. Sound frequencies pulsing at exact brainwave speeds cause a sympathetic response in the brain by which the brainwaves alter themselves to match the sound frequencies.

The DNA in our bodies also vibrates and emits sound frequencies. Beethoven is said to have claimed that there were certain musical compositions he could not complete unless he heard them in a dream, and the Celts believed that certain types of music could stop armies in their tracks.

What were the most attractive features for you in the HUX program, along with the convenience of doing it from a remote location?
The freedom to create a topic of particular interest to me, and then, with the help of the Dominguez Hills faculty and staff, explore it in such an unencumbered fashion that I could communicate my findings for the benefit of others.

Are any of your children involved in music as a career?
My son has written over 200 songs and recorded with his band, but I’m not so sure that he will pursue music as a full-time career. My youngest daughter is an arts events planner/coordinator who has a passion for dance, poetry and improvisational piano, and my oldest daughter is an attorney in Washington D.C., who took up the violin when she was in law school at Cornell.

What inspired you to home-school your children while in Alaska?
Time, mostly. I wanted to spend as much quality personalized time with my children as possible and teach them things they could never get in school.

What did they think of the experience?
We’re all so busy that we rarely have time to talk about the past, but they’ve let me know how much they appreciate the amount of sacrifice, time and energy I gave them, and they appreciate the practical life skills they learned by living in Alaska. Once they have their own children, they’ll possibly think more about it.

- Reported by Joanie Harmon-Whetmore

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Last updated Thursday, April 19, 2007, 3:15 p.m., by Joanie Harmon